Trip Reports

A Different Drummer (28-Feb-2003-08-30):
8:30 AM local time, Friday, February 28 (1330 Feb. 28 UTC) 19 28 N 078 57 W. Temp. 83, Humidity 80%, Cloud Cover 100%. At anchor behind Carti Tupile, an island in the San Blas Archipelago, on the north coast of Panama.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

Our last report had us anchored off of Aruba, where we had decided to await better weather conditions before heading around the top of Columbia. But after three days of waiting for the wind to subside, our best information was that it would be another week before we could really expect milder conditions, and as we weren't willing to do that, we'd just have to go out there and take our medicine.

A couple of days later I got an email from the former owner of Maverick and one of my sailing mentors, Bob Miller. He was in New Zealand after having a "great" trip across the South Pacific in his boat, "Wandering Star." That's really wonderful, Bob. I was just so happy for him I could puke. "#%&?@#%!!," I said, just like in the comic strips. I was a little cranky, since I had not slept much in the last two days, during which time my total diet had consisted of a cup of soup and about seven saltines. I had a splitting headache, my back was cramped from holding myself from falling out of the nav station, and my left foot was throbbing. I had apparently broken some bone in it the day before we left Grenada, a bone so small that a real man wouldn't admit to having one in his body, much less breaking it. As Maverick's X-Ray machine is broken, Ship's Orthopedic Surgeon Terry Shrode put a stethoscope on my foot, hit the area of the swelling and discoloration a couple of times with a ball peen hammer, and announced that "It sounds like a fractured phalange to me."

Maverick, just out of the convalescent hospital herself, was taking a pounding. About every two minutes we were getting hit by solid waves that seemed to come from everywhere. It felt like we were inside a big bass drum being played by a very large, but not particularly talented, drummer. One particularly bad one sounded like an explosion or a automobile wreck. I ran, or rather, limped, up on deck expecting to see bent stanchions and gear ripped off the foredeck, but the only thing that seemed strange was how clean it looked.

Maybe now's the time to try to describe the motion felt in a small boat in a big sea during heavy weather. Imagine a carousel that instead of horses has a platforms that go up and down about twelve feet every eight seconds. On top of one of these platforms is a playground merry-go-round being swung back and forth like the motion of a washing machine. On top of the merry-go-round is a rocking chair that has its back cut off so another rocking chair, oriented at a ninety-degree angle to the lower one, can sit on top of it. You're in the top rocking chair. Each stage of this tower is remotely controlled by a nine-year-old boy. He is told to jerk his control back and forth in a manner calculated to produce the most discomfort in the passenger. He is told he is allowed to have no mercy, and that the passenger is his six-year-old brother. Heavy metal music is being played at a deafening volume. This pattern needs to be sustained for about three days, and the nine-year-olds may get tired before then. But the sea won't.

We were on the radio to the famous Herb of Southbound II, a weather guru who helped a lot of people, including ourselves, cross the Atlantic. We were saying to Herb, "Please make it stop." So he says, well, you sail this-a-way and that-a-way and pretty soon or in a day or so when you hit longitude 76 you should see some moderation of the conditions. Herb's a genius, almost, but he had told us we'd see 20-25 out there and we were seeing 30-35. Funny thing was, he seemed not to believe us. He had predicted 20-25, so that's what it was, and anyway you know how those sailor guys lie. But we were down to a double-reefed main with about four feet of headsail and Maverick was never seeing the south side of eight knots, surfing to twelve and thirteen and even fourteen. I don't think it was blowing twenty.

At least we were going fast. The first three days out of Grenada Maverick turned in days of 158, 177, and 170 miles. After leaving Aruba we did 204, 175, and on the third day, the last half of which saw us in somewhat lighter winds, 155 miles.

We're now anchored in the storied San Blas Islands on the north coast of Panama, at the very end of the Atlantic Ocean. We're also at the end of another phase of the voyage, one that had a little more adventure to offer than we would have liked. Our farewell to this side of the American continent will be celebrated in these beautiful islands with the people that inhabit them, often referred to as "Kuna Indians." In our first couple of days here we met Juan Iglesias, and this was a real stroke of luck. A native of the San Blas chain, he speaks good English and has a degree in anthropology from a university in Spain. He is writing a book on the history of his people and has not only shared with us a lot of knowledge about the tribe, but has volunteered to act as our guide, at no charge, for a few days as we sail to some other islands he has chosen and take a dugout canoe trip up a river on the mainland.

We have been informed by Juan that "Kuna" is really a word for the dialect, not the people, who are more properly known as the Dule, (pronounced "doo-lah"), or Dules for all the different tribes together, and that Indians are from India, not from here. The land of the Dules is not Panama or the San Blas Islands but Kunayala. I think we'll stick with San Blas Islands so as not to be too confusing to the folks back home, but we will be referring to our hosts as the Dule, and not the Kunas. Stay tuned for a report on this beautiful island chain and its indigenous population.

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